Port-a-potties stir up controversy along Boulder Creek

BOULDER, Colo. -- The city of Boulder installed four port-a-potties along the Boulder Creek Trail to try to cut down on the amount of human waste being left near the water.

In October, the Boulder City Council reported receiving an a large number of complaints from residents about an increase in the amount of human waste and trash found along the trail.

The waste is largely from transient and homeless campers who spend the night near the creek.

“Yeah, I’ve seen people pee and go to the bathroom out here,” lifelong Boulder resident Melissa Dauer said.

Public restrooms in the area close at 11 p.m. and don’t reopen until 5 a.m. City officials suspect most of the waste is being left between those hours.

At a special session in February, City Manager Jane Brautigam said it is “creating significant concerns related to public health and sanitation and the enjoyable use of this shared gathering place by other community members.”

Several city council members believe port-a-potties are a no-brainer solution in the short term and are in favor of installing permanent or year-round bathrooms along the trail.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have the government support for transients in the mental hospitals that are needed to support them,” Dauer said. “Until then, I think it’s really inhumane if we don’t have a place to use the restroom.”

However, many city council members have concerns about the port-a-potties.

According to a memo from Brautigam, the area is in a floodplain considered in the high/hazard conveyance zone. That means the temporary toilets are a potential safety risk during flash flooding.

“Pre-fabricated or modular restrooms along the creek pose several challenges, including lack of sustainable terrain, access to utilities and inaccessibility for service vehicle,” the memo stated.

Additionally, some council members have safety concerns over adding any additional restrooms.

“I’m strongly against putting facilities down by the creek,” Councilman Andrew Shoemaker said in a February special session. “All we’re doing is facilitating and encouraging illicit and unsupervised and unsafe encampments.”

He proposed creating a legal encampment with restroom facilities away from Boulder Creek.

The port-a-potties will remain in place until the end of May. It is unclear what direction the city will take on the bathroom issue after that point.